Wichita beefs up scrap metal laws to combat theft

The City Council updated its scrap metal regulations Tuesday to keep up with increasingly crafty thieves who have torn through vacant homes, city parks and business rooftops in hopes of cashing in at recycling businesses.

But even as it passed, some questioned how much it will cut down on theft.

Harlan Hartstein, president of Wichita Iron and Metal Corp. Inc., said his business already checks IDs and works with police to prevent theft. He doesn't think the new regulations will do much more than make it harder for honest recyclers to deal in metals.

City Council members approved the move unanimously after some debate.

Mayor Carl Brewer praised the new law and called it only a beginning in the fight against metal theft.

Theft is not going to go away, he said, moments before the council approved the regulations.

Scrap metal theft rose sharply after 2000 as the value of the materials climbed.

In recent years, thieves have ripped brass valves from lawn sprinkler systems, including one that left a church's lawn flooded.

They've also torn apart vacant houses and city buildings, climbed utility poles to rip down wires and slid beneath cars to nab catalytic converters, including 11 from Red Cross vehicles in 2008.

Here is what the new regulations do:

* Require scrap metal sellers to show a photo ID or give a thumbprint before exchanging the materials for cash.

* Require sellers to sign affidavits to confirm where they got the scrap metal.

* Require dealers to be licensed, maintain records of specific transactions and turn over records at the request of law enforcement officials.

* Let law enforcement put holds on items with proprietary markings, such as Westar Energy.

Several dealers said the law could hurt their businesses and opposed the new regulations.

Hartstein agreed with the vast majority of the regulations. But he targeted a provision that requires dealers to pay sellers in check, instead of cash. He said that will force some sellers who don't have bank accounts to give up to a 30 percent cut of their earnings at a check-cashing business.

"I just think we can do better for these people," he said.